PERMISSION has been granted to open two children's homes in the Stockton area - despite stiff opposition.

Stockton Borough Council had, controversially, already bought two properties, one in Hartburn and one in Stillington, before gaining 'change of use' approval from its own planning committee.

It voted by large majorities to allow the homes, bought at a combined £1m cost, to be used as children's homes for five looked-after children in each.

That was despite heated opposition from members of the public it the meeting at Stockton Tabernacle.

During a break in proceedings a leading councillor, Steve Walmsley, a Thornaby Independent, shouted at some Hartburn residents that they were "bigots," and there were several cat calls from the crowd during the meetings that had to be silenced by the chairman, Bob Gibson.

The council, working with Scottish child care providers Spark of Genius, plan to bring 20 of Stockton's children, who are currently sent around the country, home to live in four care homes, in a £2.3m scheme which could lead to an annual saving of £400,000.

However, as previously reported by The Northern Echo, there is almost certain to be a major overspend on the project.

Opposition to the application to convert The Old Vicarage in Stillington into a children's home focussed on the fact that the building is next to the William Cassidi Primary School and concerns about the possible anti-social problems.

The school's headmistress Julia Cornelius told the meeting: "I've been teaching for 32 years, the last 19 as headteacher. Our offers to communicate with Spark of Genius were declined.

"We fully appreciate the needs of the five looked after children must be considered and the best place for them is in Stockton. But we also ask you to consider the needs of the 200 children in the school."

Opposition to the Hartburn change of use application also focussed on the possibility of increased anti-social behaviour. Statistics provided by Police Scotland showed children in eight Spark of Genius homes had committed 63 crimes in the past year.

However, council officers and Spark of Genius said the type of children who would come to the Stockton homes would not be from secure or prison accommodation and would be a different, often vulnerable type of child.

Cllr Anne McCoy, cabinet member for children and young people, said the idea was to provide houses "that can feel like homes" to the children and she believed that both communities would be welcoming to the children.